Friday, July 13, 2018

a public missiology of pop culture: or why am I researching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

I had wonderful news this week. Following two stages of peer review, I heard on Monday that I have had a journal article accepted for publication (due out October 2018) in a leading international journal. It’s a significant achievement. More exciting, the journal is in English literature and thus outside of theology. There is thus a real sense of satisfaction in having been able to engage another discipline and learn to write within their style and way of working.

The process of writing and waiting does test mental health (as the excellent article by Helen Kara helpfully articulates). There is considerable self-doubt along with the energy required to keep working at a task that is signficant stretch.

For me, in relation to this article, first there has been the vulnerability, the can I do this. It is easy verbally to offer some ideas. It is quite another exercise all together to sustain those ideas over 6,000 words. And then to place your 6,000 in the hands of peers, in this case from another discipline, who are diligent in wanting to ensure quality control. While the feedback is likely to generate improvements and enhance the quality of my work (and certainly has in this case – thanks Reviewer 1, 2 and 3), it is still a personal exercise in humility and vulnerability.

Second, the timing. The first deadline for submission and the second deadline for reworking have been very close to Summer and Winter block courses at KCML. Block courses are intense and demanding and to be writing in and around that emotional intensity has been for me a struggle.

Third, the topic. To be writing in another discipline has generated for me enormous self-doubt. Not only can I do this. But should I do this? What does writing about zombies have to do with being Principal of a seminary? The research has certainly led to some interesting conversations – sitting beside a passenger also reading Jane Austen on a Los Angeles to Heathrow flight or discussing Wesley’s sacramental theology in a modern university. But is it a good use of work/church time?

Here’s my response: Missiology is the study of the reception of faith in diverse times and locations as part of learning something about the Christian faith. Reception can take a range of forms, including acceptance, adaptation and ironic rejection. Contemporary popular culture is one place in which Christian faith is received, and responds, in a range of responses. Given we live and move and breathe in popular culture, one important essential arena for missiologists to be active in is the world of popular culture.

Including movies.

Including zombie movies like Pride And Prejudice And Zombies no less.

At the same time, as per the definition of missiology, the study has certainly led to a learning about faith, including in this case the role of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 in relation to social justice, the role of apocalyptic literature and eschatology in sacramental literature, the dangerous interplay between Christian piety and colonialism and the role of Exodus in the human journey of liberation.

Further, in this particular project, I have conducted this investigation not within the church or even of missiology journals. Instead, I have worked and written in an interdisciplinary context of secular humanities, with results presented in an international journal. Hence what I am doing is a public missiology, placing Scripture and sacramental theologies in public, intellectual environments. In doing missiology I am being missiology! It does not directly benefit the church, but then nor should public missiology.

While I am unlikely, as a minister of the Gospel, to directly use the work, it has deepened my engagement with Scripture and made me think more carefully about the Christian use of sacraments. It has also forced me to reflect on my writing and thus has a professional development dimension.

Looking back, with satisfaction, reflecting on my doubts, one of my regrets is that I haven’t had enough fun. As I let out yet another groan, reading Pride and Prejudice, one of my wise daughters told me “It’s meant to be groaned at dad. That’s the point.” I realise not that the groaning has not only been about Elizabeth and Darcy. It has also been about the self-doubt and internal questioning and timing pressures I’ve been feeling. Which in a desire to be vulnerable to you, my blog readers, I’m articulating here.

Posted by steve at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

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